Monday, May 7, 2012
On the Eve of Election
Tomorrow, North Carolinians will go to the polls and weigh in on "Amendment One." I understand there also some primary races for some people running for some offices, and that's all well and good, too.
This is being called the Marriage Amendment. You can google the full text of the Amendment if you're not from North Carolina or if you are and really don't know anything about the thing. I am voting against it, though the latest polls indicate that my vote will represent the minority of those who vote tomorrow.
I have been openly attacked and had my eternal standing with God called into question because of my views on this particular issue. I have been accused of distorting the truth, of creating gray out of a black-and-white issue, and giving in to "cultural accommodation," "conforming to the world," etc. etc. etc.
What you are about to read will not be much of a surprise to those who have followed my thoughts on the matter for the last several weeks. Nevertheless, I have tried to outline my feelings about this particular Amendment as a Christian, an American, a North Carolinian, and a student of history.
Rather than cherry-picking particular Scriptural passages, my thoughts on this are guided by the overarching themes that are found throughout the Bible, as God directs us how to interact with and treat each other. The Bible has always enjoined people of faith to show particular kindness and care to orphans, widows, strangers, "aliens," and all manner of vulnerable people, remembering that we were once strangers in a strange land. The Bible in general and Jesus in particular always shows preferential treatment for those on the margins of society.
So, who would be on the margins of our society? Lesbians and gays, certainly. Unmarried heterosexual couples. The elderly and infirmed. Children. Victims of domestic violence and their children. In one way or another, Amendment One has the potential to harm all of these groups. Whether or not one supports gay marriage is actually a tangential issue; the real question is whether the risks to all these vulnerable and marginalized groups is worth it to codify something into our state constitution which is already on the books? To me, it's not.
That being said, I actually think Amendment One is a very un-Christian piece of legislation, because of the hostility it codifies into our Constitution. Amendment One reinforces laws that are already on the books (that proponents of the Amendment are worried about being turned over by "activist" judges, which is a bunch of hooey, if you ask me, ESPECIALLY because of the vague legal wording of the Amendment that will subject its interpretation and application to years of protracted battles in the court, opening it up to judges who are activist or not), but I believe the real point is to send a message to gays and lesbians. That message is "By the way, we still don't like you, and we still don't think you're okay. Nothing's really changed, we just want to make sure you know that we still don't like you." Amendment One turns our state's constitution into a middle school cafeteria.
I also believe that marriage is a particular and sacred institution, but it is a religious matter, not a political one. That the government is even involved in defining "marriage" is ludicrous to students of history. Historically, the covenant of marriage as we understand it was recognized and blessed by the Church ONLY and the legal, contractual aspects are recognized by the state. In a sense, every Christian marriage is both an affair of the Church (the marriage) and the government (more or less a civil union). For instance, with every couple whose wedding I perform, I am always operating as an agent of the state (the legal part). As you have seen, not every couple has a Christian wedding, and that's perfectly fine. For Christian couples or those choosing a Christian wedding, I also act as an agent of the Church in solemnizing and consecrating the "marriage."
For my two cents, I think the government should only be involved in the civil union part. Marriage is a unique and particular relationship that is just as much spiritual as temporal, and the government has no role in legislating matters of the Spirit.
In broad strokes, that's why I oppose the Amendment as a Christian. I also oppose it as an American. The preamble to our Constitution states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (it's close - I did get an "A" in 11th grade Social Studies). I see Amendment One tearing at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for thousands of North Carolinians.
Further, I am a believer in small government and that the government is there to do for people only what they cannot do for themselves. This is where I lose my liberal friends (who thought I was one of them) and confuse my conservative friends (who KNOW I'm not one of them!). My belief on a document like a Constitution is that it should, in the broadest sense possible, solidify the relationship between government and people to give as much freedom to the individual as possible, without infringing on the rights of others. I understand that the idea of non-heterosexual couples makes people uncomfortable, but nowhere are we guaranteed "the right to never be made uncomfortable." Amendment One goes further in defining the relationship between a government and its people than should ever be enshrined in a state constitution.
From the foundation of what we would consider American society, religious freedom has always been at the center. Indeed, many of the early colonists were fleeing religious tyranny and persecution in Europe; they were directly suffering because their beliefs and practices were not those of the majority and those in positions of power. Principal in the founding documents of most American colonies was the protection of religious liberty for persons of all faith and non-faith. There is something elegant and theologically true about our religious expressions being freely chosen rather than coerced. The Christian faith insists that it all hinges on love of God and neighbor, and love must always be freely chosen and can never be coerced; otherwise, it is ingenuine. And so, Christians help create the space where people can freely chose God; Amendment One is an attempt to impose a majority view of God on all, and it tears against the very fabric of religious liberty which was among our founding cornerstones.
There is a quote attributed to many people that says, more or less, that "the greatness of a Democratic society is shown in the care it shows its weakest and most vulnerable members." I'm a bit embarrassed at our society if this is the care we will show our weakest and most vulnerable members. Founding Father John Adams warned the fledging American democracy of the dangers of the "tyranny of the majority," in which he envisioned a scenario in which decisions made by a majority place its interests so far above those of an individual or minority group as to constitute active oppression, comparable to that of tyrants and despots. Amendment One represents just such a tyranny, in my view.
One last point. Religion and politics make strange bedfellows; perhaps that's why you're not supposed to talk about religion, politics, or sex at cocktail parties. "When religious groups crawl into bed with the government and subject matters of faith to majority vote, they are putting their religion in peril. And, in the long run, they stand to lose much more than they gain. The more we use government to arbitrate religious/social issues, the more likely we are to get burned. In other words, relying on being in the majority to impose your social/religious views on others is a dangerous game. Sooner or later, you will no longer be in the majority" (Skip Foster, Publisher of the Shelby Star). My Christian faith is too important to me to allow it to be subject to the whims of the masses, which might be on my side today, and against me tomorrow.
If you're still reading, those are my thoughts on why I am personally against the Amendment as an American, a student of history, as a North Carolinian, as a believer in limited government, and most importantly, as a Christian. Tomorrow, I will go to the poll and vote AGAINST Amendment One.